Ferry service to Bear Island by way of Hammocks Beach State Park will not resume on July 1, as park officials had hoped.

Work on the park’s new floating dock is actually underway and officials hope the delay in service will only be about 30 days, according to Ranger Sarah Kendrick, park superintendent.

“They just got the dock materials last week … and they started working on it this week,” Kenddrick said on Wednesday, June 19.

The materials received actually constitute the second of two shipments of dock materials, she explained. The initial shipment arrived prior to June 1 and installation began soon after.

“All the materials are here now,” she said. “They are looking at finishing up sometime in August. It could be the first of the month, if things go according to plan and the weather cooperates.

“Hopefully, we’ll be up and running by then.”

The Bear Island ferry landing is mostly complete, according to Kendrick.

“There are some items they have to fix, but for the most part, the dock is there,” she explained.

When service does begin, she said the ferry would run on its normal schedule.

“We’ll go through the end of October, barring any major storms,” she said, declining to be more descriptive. “I don’t want to use the ‘H’ word.”

Plans to replace the dock at the Hammocks Beach State Park mainland visitor center as well as on Bear Island were approved more than two years ago by state park officials. Had things gone as planned, the work would have been completed in time for the current ferry season.

Service between the Visitor Center, just outside of Swansboro off Hammocks Beach Road, and the undeveloped, 900-acre Bear Island, usually runs from early spring until late fall.

But things were not usual this year, thanks to Hurricane Florence.

Kendrick said the dock manufacturer, whose headquarters is in Bellingham, Wash., fell behind in meeting the order. She attributes that situation to damage from the vicious hurricane season of 2018.

“The company was behind because of two hurricanes,” she said last week. Hurricanes Matthew of 2017 and Florence of 2018 apparently caused so much damage to docks, the demand for materials went up substantially. “Everybody was replacing docks.”

The delay in construction would have been much more tolerable, had the park not been hit so hard by Florence. The September storm wiped out the ferry service for the remainder of that season and into this one.

Fred Schachter is in a unique position to assess the park and its operational status on the local economy. He is president of the Swansboro Area Chamber of Commerce and he is a volunteer at the park.

“The state park ferry transports 1,500 or so passengers per week,” he said. “As a volunteer at the park, I am constantly asked about places to eat and places to go at night.”

So the financial impact on the town has been measureable. But it has been lessened by the fact that there are the nearby beaches and a private transport is providing access to Bear Island.

“I think there will be a minimal effect to tourism since we have the beautiful beaches of the Crystal Coast,” Schachter explained. “Also, the Carolina Swan is taking people to Bear Island for a fee right now as well.”

Schachter stressed how difficult it has been to come back to normal after such a devastating storm.

“The recovery process is slow for state entities in order to get funding for repairs from Florence,” he said. “This has been the biggest factor in getting up and running.

“While it is unfortunate it will be a short season, I think there have been valuable lessons learned here. I’m hoping Florence is a once-in-20- or once-in-50-year occurrence. It’s hard to protect out natural resources from Mother Nature.”

When it became clear last year that the state park’s mainland docks would not be available, officials considered using the public dock in downtown Swansboro to resume ferry service to Bear Island.

But there were two issues complicating that, according to Kendrick. One is the lack of parking in town and the other is the need for the launch site to meet certain state-required specifications.

She also said the new docks, which will include a floating system, will be an improvement over the previous docks. They will make it easier for the captains to dock and for the public to board and disembark. There will be no steps. Instead, the dock deck will line up with the deck of the ferry.

Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act will be simpler, according to Kendrick. Instead of having to use a pulley system, there will be a simple ramp.

For more on this story purchase a copy of the June 26. 2019, Tideland News.

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy@tidelandnews.com.

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